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Robert Orlando: Bending Genre in Filmmaking

(David Orlandelli, Nexus Media)

“If you look through the films, it’s a propaganda machine, where identity politics is always featured. There’s no space there for just a common universal story, which is the appeal to human frailty or common ground.”

On February 3rd, Merion West‘s Kathryn Kuhlman was joined by Robert Orlando to discuss his recent works such as Citizen Trump, as well as the new genre of filmmaking he describes himself as pioneering. An avid and independent filmmaker for the majority of his life, Mr. Orlando has created several films and books that delve into subjects ranging from the apostle Paul to heroes of the Cold War to former President Donald Trump. Some of the most well-known include The Divine Plan, Apostle Paul, and Silence Patton. He is also the president of Nexus Media, a media consulting firm. In this interview, Mr. Orlando discusses his thought process when creating Citizen Trump, upcoming projects he has in the works, and his views on the future of Hollywood and where conservatives fit into the picture. He also delves into a new film genre he is developing, a genre that has previously been described as “impact edutainment.”

Starting off with the basics—what inspired you to get into filmmaking? Was it always a passion of yours? Is there one particular film that you saw, and you had an “aha moment” of that’s exactly what I want to do?

I made films very early for some reason—I wasn’t conscious of choosing filmmaking—but a few buddies and I began when we were eight or nine years old, in elementary school. I remember writing the scripts and, yeah, they were childish, but I was very young. I always remember making films. I would say that I got away from filmmaking at an early age and returned to it at about 19, when I was not sure what I wanted to do long term. I was on a spiritual journey, you know, what does it all mean? And at that time, while searching for a spiritual meaning, the love of film returned to me. I don’t think it was one film, it may have been a series of films, and then I went to film school. It was a rediscovery, which appears today in my filmmaking itself. Many times we’re not all one thing or another. At times, we’re a little bit of who we are today, who we left behind, what we’re going to be, so there is a process of self-discovery. And, I think for me, once the spiritual question entered the quest—how I wanted to live my life — I started to narrow it down to my greatest passion.

Capitalizing on the praise and recognition from your recent books and films, what are you working on now? Do you think you’ll continue to produce work—whether another film or possibly a book—pertaining to former President Trump?

So, I have a book coming out on former President Trump on June 1st of this year, with Simon and Schuster. Like all of my books when they follow or proceed a film I’ve done, they’re much deeper dives into the subject matter; so it’s not simply the dramatic narrative of a story but more of the arguments behind it and the perception and the insights. So, there is a Citizen Trump book. And to answer your first question—and I’m really fired up about this (pun intended)—I’m doing a film and a book now called To Hell With Karl Marx. That was born literally out of the summer, and I started that long before there was an insurrection at the Capitol. It was all born out [of] the self-discovery theme. I read a lot of Marx when I was in college in New York. I was very independent-minded, and, to date, I think [Marx] is probably the most influential voice in the modern world. What I saw with the movements emerging—and what their jargon was over the summer—I just couldn’t believe it. When will the idea of Marx and his vision that he set out in the 19th century ever go away? It [won’t]; it’s aflame. So, my next project that, again, I’m “fired up” about is To Hell With Karl Marx.

You’ve analyzed Ronald Reagan’s role in [the Cold War]; you’ve analyzed Patton’s early role in the prelude to the Cold War; and Pope John Paul II. I was just wondering if you’ve ever thought about doing a book or a film on Margaret Thatcher and her role in the final years of the Cold War?

I am, it was the same as casting; I ran out of lead roles. Let me step back a second and give you a little context about the Cold War. It’s another one of my lifelong passions. The simple question to me has always been—a nagging question—why did the United States go to World War II, to save Western Europe, but not Eastern Europe, and then allow the Russians to take over? Now, there are practical reasons for that, but I’ve never had a satisfactory answer. Marx and the Cold War represent an entirely different paradigm for how to live that’s [a] direct clash with the American system. These two worlds are opposed, and in 1945, one month earlier, we’re fighting to take over Western Europe so that they have a chance at democracy, but we soon after left Eastern Europe, especially poor Poland.

I do think with China that’s another story if you want to get into it: China as the new Cold War coming. But with that said, when I was writing out The Divine Plan narrative, I did include Margaret Thatcher in the narrative, but I was running out of space and organizing because it really was the story between John Paul II and Ronald Reagan and the relationship that came after they were nearly killed in assassination attempts and how they joined together and privately confessed to each other that they thought they were spared to bring down the Berlin Wall, which they ultimately accomplished. So, [Thatcher] wasn’t secondary in that she wasn’t important; she just didn’t fit in there. To answer your question, moving forward, I think she’s an extraordinary lady. She’s an incredible woman, worthy of a story.

I didn’t set out to say, “Hey I’m going to create a new genre.” It is born of my efforts, which others have pointed out to me over the last few years. I don’t feel like the genre is very defined given the post-modern paradigm. I’m working with the blend of a formal documentary stylized as a fictional story. I think you could do a lot in strong narrative within the conventional documentary framework and be profound and be inspirational and do all those things. There’s also a practical reason, and, to be frank, I started off as an independent filmmaker, and I really was independent-minded, and I thought there was a space where filmmaking and art parted ways with politics, as naïve and idealistic as it sounds. To me, the Hollywood industry veered so far Left in the course of my life that it ran away from where I was—not me running to them. I think the real story is so dramatic, and what’s coming in the present world is so dramatic. 

Going back to your new genre of film: I’m just curious to clarify what’s the difference between this and historical fiction? Is it just more the dramatization of history?

The hardest question in the world to [ask] a performer or a director [is] to tell us who you are. Most of your life is made up of experimentations. My Robomantix brand came out of me not having a clear word to describe it. I think what I do is I have a few worlds that I traverse in my filmmaking and my life journey that are normally not traversed. So, there’s the filmmaker: the lover of film, which would just be straight-up love for storytelling, the cinematic piece of it, putting words into visualization and dramatization. I think there’s a spiritual self-discovery journey here where I think I look at the world as below the surface. You might use the word psychological or metaphysical or just other things and forces that operate below the surface of material things like the physical acts of war. And then I’m also part academic, so I do deeper dives, a little heavier in content than the average filmmaker. Somehow all of these three things allow me to share with an audience my journey and say, “Hey, come with me, I’ll take you on this journey” because, ultimately, I want them to discover what I have discovered and how story can reveal itself in a way where it’s not binary like right or wrong, or Left or Right, all those dualities that we’re suffering from today.

So, that journey is the genre because I try [to] use the subject matter from my real-life experience, so it’s been felt. I do a lot of homework so that it’s accurate. And then I try and make it self-discovery. Part of my journey is that you have to inform while you’re telling the story because you can’t assume they know the basic building blocks. That self-discovery has been born also out of the nature of the world we live in where everyone’s raised to be an activist, and they really don’t know anything. I’m a product of the world around me as much as I’m a product of myself. I’m trying to meet the world where it’s at, and I think that journey of self-discovery now is impeded a lot because of the lack of knowledge, the idealism of making everyone an activist so they see the political “us” and “them.” All of these things are impediments to real storytelling because storytelling is ultimately about the universal, about the common. What we all share as human beings is our frailties—not utopias.

You mentioned how very far Left Hollywood has become. Why do you think conservatives tend to be the minority in filmmaking?

I do see liberal and conservative differently than the Left. To me, a leftist is not just the liberal brand. There’s the small liberal in the party, but then there’s the classic liberal, the nature of the country we live in, which is classically liberal, meaning, it’s not totalitarian. I think what’s happened is what was formally liberal has kind of moved over to be more conservative. Liberal became leftist, so I think we’re in a different place now because that is what’s captured Hollywood. If you look through the films, it’s a propaganda machine, where identity politics is always featured. There’s no space there for just a common universal story, which is the appeal to human frailty or common ground. There’s always an exception to the rule; some people exist in there. The Divine Plan and some of my films have been picked up by major distributors like Sony, Amazon, and others. So I’m not saying there’s no space in there. But largely, it’s—to me—an arm of the leftist agenda.

I think conservatives don’t do media as well. Part of it is inherently in the nature of being conservative because if all you want to do is fight for what has already been, you can’t create anything new. I think these categories fall apart when you talk about filmmaking because it’s really not about liberal vs. conservative; it’s about who we are, what we’re becoming, and that’s self-discovery again. You wouldn’t use political terms because they don’t make sense; films shouldn’t have agendas.

What I would say that would be conservative would be ancient stories—like in the Carl Jung sense—are archetypes. This is why the two worlds clash in their point of view. The modern propaganda machine literally thinks that the world just needs more knowledge, and, if you tell enough people propaganda, you’ll convince everyone they just need to know and then they’ll see. If not, you persuade them to know by taking over high-tech media and other things and control the dialogue. Really what film and art have always landed in [is] they’re ancient themes recycling over and over again in life because it really is about a human project. I wouldn’t use the word that I’m a humanist because that word could be a misnomer today, but I’d be a Christian humanist, you might call me. I still think that the sharing of the human journey is the common ground for everyone. And, in that sense, it might be looked at as conservative, but it’s really what film has always been.

With the archetypes and the ancient themes, you tend to like the Greek tragic hero. I know you did a previous interview with Merion West [regarding] Citizen Trump, [in which] you described President Trump not necessarily as the fallen hero or tragic hero but more of the tragic trickster. It really struck me how Silence Patton, The Divine Plan, Apostle Paul, most of the things you dive into it’s men with a deep conviction for their purpose in life. Arguably, President Trump’s outlook on his purpose in life is much less deep-rooted and more performance-based, so what made you want to dive into President Trump?

To answer you in the most direct way, I think Donald Trump is America’s shadow. I believe that a large portion of the United States (and a lot of them showed up at the Capitol) have been ignored. To ignore people generationally—I think Obama did this unwittingly, too—it creates a volcano that’s about to blow. [Trump] was the shadow (like an avatar). He showed up and said, “You know what everyone’s really thinking? I’ll say it. I’m going to say it to you right now, and I don’t care what the repercussions are.” But I was warning, I was trying to say that if the United States requires someone of such media height and drama—and in this case, the Republican Party needed him because he had to compete with all the media now that no one else can—that he became almost like a John the Baptist warning, the last guy before the doom. I saw him as a symptom, not the cause. Even more than that, I saw him as kind of like the tragic figure who wouldn’t see his own hubris, and that became his flaw. The tragic flaw for the Greek hero is they don’t see their flaw. That’s the flaw of the hero.

You’ve made a few biblical references, and you mentioned being a Christian. How has your religious faith come to bear on your work? Do you think there’s a healthy audience today for religiously-inspired films? 

I don’t buy the Christian film thing. Would you want a Christian pilot, or would you want a good pilot, you know? By definition, if film is doing what it’s supposed to do, it’ll be the combination it always was, which was probably Greco-Roman and Christian in its nature because that’s what it was born of. If you think of the Christian message, it’s not a teaching; it’s an act, the act of the cross, and Jesus’s act is the archetype. The yearly festival that the Greeks would celebrate—they would do four kinds of plays, and one of them was a satyr play, and that was religious, and the whole festival was religious in nature. So, the whole idea of catharsis and the purging of bad emotion—which later becomes the sacrificing of the lamb—all that is born of theater. In the ancient world, they’re not separated. What’s happened to us in the modern world is we separate when you’re doing theatre or religion, but they didn’t. To say someone is not religious, I think this is part of that Marxist hangover we have again, where the world is merely a material universe, and you’re just sorting through knowledge and material things [is the] answer to all the questions, but it’s really not. I would say that this is all together the inner journey that defines self-identity by definition: Your revelation and the natural world [are] all part of the storytelling.

What are your thoughts on the future of filmmaking with the whole changing landscape of modern-day Hollywood and streaming services such as Netflix? Where do you think the role of the independent filmmaker will land?

I’ve been told that I make films that can land in the spectrum of Netflix, but that it dialogues with religious people. This means you could just watch it for its entertainment value, but I’m not at war with traditional thinking or conservative thinking or just basic religious ideas. I’m not putting it down; I’m in dialogue with it, with the real world. So, to answer your question, yes. My films are on Amazon Prime, and they do pretty well just from the mainstream. I would say to you that it’s going to be interesting because I can see anyone not checking the boxes—the Hollywood political boxes—as seeming like an outsider. Conservatives don’t have right now enough of a distribution or media network. That’s coming. They’re going to create a parallel universe where it’ll be a correction. I think it’s not going to come easily or quickly, and I think that’s already happening. I know for a fact that’s already happening, and I’m part of some of that.

So there’ll be a parallel world—not because we didn’t want to be in the mainstream but because the mainstream, as I said before, became the leftist-stream. Now, we just have to create enough space just to create a mainstream world again, where it’s not everyone wakes up every day in an activist state of mind or burning things down. In my lifetime, I would like just to see the beauty of filmmaking and art, even philosophy rescued from this entanglement with politics. It’s a chokehold on everything that independent filmmaking stands for and to keep remaking the world in some perpetual adolescence, which is how we describe Hollywood, like a perpetual adolescence where what you wish the world would be like is how you live your whole life. It’s kind of tragic in a way. 

I think we’ll leave it there. Thank you for an interesting conversation. 

Thanks, Kathryn.

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